FOR sportscar enthusiasts, 1999 was an important year. Porsche first introduced the GT3 derivative (in the 996) and, although the Stuttgart firm didn't realise it then, this badge would adorn one of the most acclaimed cars in its 911 range. The 996 GT3 (Mark 2) followed in 2003, then two 997 derivatives in 2006 and 2009, then the first-generation 991 in 2013.

So, what's changed with this latest incarnation, dubbed the 991.2? A fair amount, actually, starting with a new engine. Rather than being derived from the current 4,0-litre flat-six found in the 991 GT3 RS and the limited-production 911 R (that engine, for Porsche anoraks, is codenamed the MA176), the new GT3's engine is derived from a racing unit. Known as the MA177, it has already made its track debut in the 991 GT3 R, the RSR and the latest Cup racecars. The unit features a myriad race-derived tech advances such as a lubrication system that requires less oil (70 litres per minute instead of the previous 120) and therefore less energy to be moved round the engine. The hydraulically actuated valves have also been replaced by a new rigid system and it features a stronger crankshaft, too. One key characteristic that remains, though, is the previous 3,8-litre flat-six engine's penchant to rev to an intoxicating 9 000 r/min. Fortunately, despite all the updates made to the new model, that number remains.

As does the lightning-quick seven-speed PDK transmission driven here, although selfshifters will be happy to know Porsche also offers a six-speed manual transmission. It's the same ‘box that we experienced in our drive of the 911 R (February 2017). This is the first time since the 997 GT3 that Porsche has offered a manual option in this derivative, and also the first time that the GT3 is available with two transmissions.

Porsche has paid special attention to the GT3's weight and aerodynamic efficiencies. Again, there is a long list of updates but, to sum it up, the new car has the same mass as the old one. And, while that may sound like no gain at all, given it has a larger engine employing more technology, maintaining the GT3's 1 430 kg kerb mass is an impressive feat. Porsche has done this using lightweight materials such as carbon-fibre and polyurethane. If you opt for the manual version, you save a further 17 kg. Without influencing aerodynamic drag, Porsche has been able to increase downforce by 20%to 155 kg at top speed. Options on the various test cars at our press launch included carbon-fibre bucket seats and the Clubsport package with a rear roll cage (with or without a fire extinguisher). All cars were fitted with Porsche's carbonceramic composite brakes.

Any GT3, however, is all about the driving experience and, in this new one, you don't so much climb behind the wheel as fall into the bucket seat while the side bolsters guide your body into place. Select the softer sports-seat option and, yes, you will be slightly more comfortable on longer journeys, but those buckets really connect you with the car. It's an element I missed later in the day when I drove an example fitted with the more forgiving option.

Twist the key and the bark of the engine is complemented by a burst of overrun harmonics from the exhaust system. Soon thereafter, the engine settles into a rough and clattering idle; not unlike 911 racecars. The test route initially headed along some highways, but we soon hit fantastically challenging Spanish back roads; that's something this part of the world has plenty of. The moment you pull away, even on a light throttle opening, there is a sense of an immensely intense powertrain behind you. In the lower gears, I keep the revs below 5 000 r/min as I start to get into a rhythm while marvelling at the perfect chassis setup.

I select second at 4 000 r/min, put my foot down and watch as the yellow needle makes a beeline for the redline. Past 6 000 r/min, the needle gains even more momentum ... thankfully, there's a whole 3 000 r/min of manic screaming to go before you need to pull the small steering-wheel-mounted pedal or pull the PDK lever backward, and bang, the next gear is selected. This new engine displays an urgency unlike any other six-cylinder powerplant I have used.

Each shift is masterfully and immediately dealt with, without any interruption in the power delivery. As before, it feels like the engineers have reached the absolute maximum speed at which gears can be shifted. Press the PDK sport button and the system becomes intensely aggressive. It holds on to gears even longer, to such an extent that, if you are not at absolute full tilt on track, it is best to drive it in normal mode.

The grip levels, helped by the 245/35 ZR20 front, 305/30 ZR20 rear tyre-and-wheel combination, are high, but with such direct response from the throttle, it is relatively easy to sense what the back-end of the car is doing, especially through tighter corners on a circuit. The electrically assisted steering has been further improved and you get decent feedback from the front axle, particularly once the latter detects undulations.

Whether on road or track, you can perfectly gauge your throttle input. Turbocharged engines have come a long way, but this connection between throttle and engine response at high revs remains unique to the naturally aspirated engine (incidentally, this is now the only powertrain of this type in the Porsche stable). Believe it or not, but at R2,75 million, the GT3 is well priced. The performance and experience on offer are in line with cars that are more powerful and cost a whole lot more than this Porsche. That said, for the same price, you gain access to the very accomplished Audi R8 V10... The manual GT3 derivative will appeal to a small group of enthusiasts who understand what a special and rare experience it is to be able to use your clutch foot and shift hand to swap cogs in a car of this calibre. However, for daily driving, or if you prefer to concentrate on braking points, racing lines and managing grip on track, the PDK is the better option.

I had several hours with this car, drove it more than 300 km on the road and 10 laps on Circuito Guadix, and if I had one take-out, it would be this: Porsche has taken what was already a very focused sportscar and honed its unique characteristics even further. It's perhaps a fellow petrolhead, the owner of an older GT3, who defined it best. During the launch, I sent him a few pictures of the new car and his reply was spot-on: “A civilised racecar.” If you want the ultimate road-going expression of a 911, it's the GT3, rather than the more hardcore GT3 RS, that embodies both the 911's civility and racing potential.